By mid-Thursday of the Puget Sound region’s snow globe week, government road crews managed to clear the main roads for drivers, but people on foot still trudged through ice and slush.
City or suburb, hillside or valley, rich or poor, the neglect of sidewalks could be seen almost everywhere. Seattle codes require homeowners and businesses to clear adjacent walkways but most don’t.
The disparity isn’t lost on safe-streets supporters, and people from snowier Northeastern and Midwestern states.
“Every transplant from NE and MW is appalled by Seattle snow removal,” tweeted Scott Kubly, a former Seattle Department of Transportation director with Chicago experience. “Crazy the city holds individual residents to [standards] that it won’t meet itself.” He went on to calculate the city can easily afford to plow residential side streets.
Sound Transit train stations are well-salted, as are adjoining bus lanes, but for locals who walk home outside SeaTac/Airport Station, the sidewalks of International Boulevard Southwest offered gray slush.
The C Line bus stop in West Seattle’s trendy Alaska Junction was still packed in ice, as were the Route 120 stops along Burien’s low-income, highly walked Ambaum Boulevard Southwest, where people stepped through parking lots instead of sidewalks, to keep their feet dry.
To be sure, some are not physically able to shovel. Seattleites are used to waiting for rain to rinse the white stuff.
Snow shovels were sold out Thursday at McLendon’s Hardware in White Center, and a 20-pound bag of de-icing granules cost $33.04 with tax, out of reach for many people.
Byung Lee, owner of Gas & Smoke Depot along Delridge Way Southwest in Seattle, said he usually clears snow immediately, but couldn’t leave his own hillside home in Mukilteo on Sunday and Monday. By then, hundred of footsteps and 20-degree temperatures made the ice too tough. On Thursday afternoon, as the air warmed to 34 degrees, Lee seized an opportunity.
“Usually, my customers say ‘You’re the only place it’s all clear,'” said Lee. “I lived in Germany. In Germany, everybody goes outside and they clean in front of their house. I kind of made that a habit.”
Housing advocate Laura Loe found a couple inches of snow coating an overpass and staircase in Seattle’s Interbay neighborhood.
“It’s very surprising to me that wasn’t done. It was done in previous years,” said Loe, a pro-housing activist. Loe said she strapped metal traction spikes under her shoe soles, but “I had to go down the stairs sideways, very slowly.”
Slick sidewalks became a political issue in 2019, when the disability-access group Rooted in Rights pressed Mayor Jenny Durkan and SDOT director Sam Zimbabwe for help. Durkan suggested an “Emerald and Gold” map of key sidewalks, similar to SDOT’s road-priority plowing map. The agency now maps where it inspects or clears walkways.
SDOT says there are 2,400 sidewalk miles, and “our crews can’t be at every location all at once, so it is everyone’s responsibility to do their part.” Street inspectors visited more than 2,500 blocks this week, informing businesses and contractors about sidewalk clearing, said spokesperson Ethan Bergerson. He said 35 workers have been shoveling targeted walkways — such as Sixth Avenue South in the Chinatown International District — and cleared 300 to 600 curb cuts a day. The new John Lewis Bridge at Northgate Station was walkable by Monday morning.
An SDOT shoveling crew will continue to work through the weekend, Bergerson said.